A couple of hours after what had ended up being my first actual fight, I was sitting in a small room in front of a simple wooden table. I had been escorted here by a stone-faced Wyatt Rendell (the overzealous security guard) after taking a shower to clean off the bug-poodle gunk. He told me not to leave the room, but wait for the investigating Runners to come chat with me about what had happened.
I was alive. I had survived that swarm of… of monsters. In spite of everything that had happened, I didn’t feel tired at all. In fact, I kind of wanted to go out and run some laps. My legs wouldn’t stop bouncing up and down, and my hands kept shaking. I needed to get up. I needed to move around.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening, followed by a slight exhale of breath that sounded almost surprised. “Oh, you… you’re really…”
Looking up from a close examination of my hands, I regarded the man who was talking. He was very tall and almost dangerously thin, an ill-fitting green suit loosely draped over his nearly skeletal figure. His eyes were covered by emerald-tinted sunglasses, and his rust colored hair was cut short. He was staring at me as though I was something fascinating to see. “Umm, am I in the right room?”
Seeming to recover from his initial reaction, the man gave a quick nod. “Yes, my apologies. It’s just that–” he trailed off, then seemed to shake himself. “It’s nothing. My mind is just elsewhere, I’m afraid. Memories that are best forgotten.” Taking in a long breath, he let it out before giving me a nod. “Now then, good afternoon, Felicity. I trust you’re feeling a little bit better now that you’ve cleaned up?”
“It’s Flick,” I informed the man automatically. “I don’t… really go by Felicity anymore.” Even as I spoke, I couldn’t stop picturing his expression as he’d stood in that doorway before getting himself under control. That hadn’t been the look of someone who was thinking about something else. It had been the look of someone who was reminded of something traumatic and painful because of what they were looking at. Or who they were looking at, in this case. But why? What did he mean by ‘memories that were best forgotten’? And why would just looking at me make one of the Heretic super-detectives falter and stare like that? I was positive I’d never met the man, unless there were some memory shenanigans involved. Which, to be fair, I probably shouldn’t rule out completely.
Was it possible? Did I have prior interaction with the Heretics that had been erased from my mind? It wasn’t exactly impossible to believe, considering everything else that they were capable of. The look of instant familiarity on this guy’s face when he had seen me was just too blatant to completely ignore.
“Flick then,” he nodded in agreement, interrupting my thoughts. “My name is Runner Tribald Kine. Do you mind if I sit?” He indicated the chair across the table from me while arching one thin eyebrow.
I shrugged. “Sure, I mean, it’s not my chair. I’m not even sure where in the school I am.” Frowning slightly at a sudden thought of portals, I added, “I am still in the school, right?” The maze of corridors that Wyatt had practically dragged me through had been pretty confusing and disorienting even before magic was added into the equation. I really couldn’t rule out the idea that I had been taken elsewhere.
Tribald tugged the chair out and settled himself into it while nodding. “Yes, you are definitely still in school. No need to worry. Not even the bravest Runner would risk taking one of the Baroness’s students off school grounds without her express permission.” He seemed to shudder at the very thought.
“Is Avalon okay?” I asked, watching the man’s reaction. “Those things were after her, you know. You read the message that whoever did it left on the wall? What if they come after her again?”
The man’s thin, hawkish face softened slightly as he nodded. “Don’t you worry, Avalon is in good hands. She might not fully enjoy the experience, but she is perfectly safe, I promise.”
In spite of his assurance, I frowned. “What do you mean she might not enjoy the experience?”
In answer, the man let out a long, low sigh, taking a moment to examine the cuff of his ugly lime colored suit jacket before responding. “Felic—Flick, how much do you know about your roommate?”
I froze briefly at the question, biting my lip as I considered my answer. Finally, I spoke carefully. “Probably more than she wants me to, but not enough to start making a bunch of judgments about it.”
Tribald smiled a little thinly. “Good answer. It’s not really my place to get into specifics. However, there are reasons that one might think that Avalon knows more than she’s telling about this situation. My partner is discussing this possibility with her, and I am fairly certain that it’s not going well.”
My eyes widened, and I blurted, “What? You guys are going after her for this? But she was the–”
The man raised both hands placatingly. “Easy, easy. No. We don’t think she’s responsible for what happened. We do think that she might know more than she’s telling us about who is responsible for it. Call it a… misplaced desire to take care of the situation herself. We think she has an enemy that is targeting her, and that she thinks it’s something she has to deal with personally. My partner is trying to convince her to tell us everything she actually knows so that we can settle this situation.”
Breathing out, I shook my head. “She’s not going to react well to anything you say to her.” I’d only known her for a couple days and even I realized that much. “Your partner is wasting his time.”
“Her time,” the man corrected. “And I wouldn’t be that surprised. Still, we do have procedures to follow.” For a moment, he just looked at me as though considering something. When he finally spoke, his tone was curious. “Would you consider Avalon a friend at this point, someone you can trust?”
I paused, shifting in my seat while I considered his question. “That’s two different questions, sir. Would I consider her a friend? She’s not exactly friendly. I don’t think she has any interest in making any ‘friends’ as far as that goes. And the other question, do I trust her? She saved my life in there. I’m here now because of her, because she helped me and kept me calm. So are we friends? I hope we can be someday, but we’re not really friends the way you’d define it. Not yet. But yes, I do trust her.”
For a few long seconds, Tribald said nothing. He simply watched me, seeming to memorize my expression before giving a final nod. “Understood. Now, why don’t you walk me through exactly what happened, from the moment you walked into the room. Step by step, no detail is too small. You’ve wanted to be a reporter, right? Pretend I’m paying you by the word, and bury me in minutiae.”
Blinking at that, I straightened in the seat while asking, “How did you know I wanted to be a reporter?”
The man simply smiled faintly at me. “You’ll find that the Bow Street Runners do our homework, Flick. We rarely walk into an interview without finding out everything we can about the person involved. But in this case, it wasn’t hard to find. It was one the primary notes in your school record.”
Perfect. My minor attempt at fishing had yielded results. I hadn’t been absolutely sure that this guy had seen my personal school file, but now that I knew he had, I might be able to use it.
Sure, part of me felt bad about manipulating the guy into revealing that much. But hey, these guys had apparently spent years vetting me and digging into my personal life before eventually making the decision to let me into the school. It was only fair that I get to do a little digging of my own into my situation to find out why it had taken a tie breaking vote from the Headmistress to actually admit me.
To that end, I looked up at the man. “Can I ask you a question then, Mister… err… detective… uh?”
Chuckling, he supplied, “Runner. Runner Kine, or just Tribald is good. And what sort of question?”
“You saw my file.” Shifting in my seat, I watched his reaction while asking, “Was there anything in it that might explain why half the people who make the decisions didn’t want to let me into the school, or why the headmistress had to break that particular tie? I know it’s not a normal thing, because I was the only one that was so late. Everyone else, even the other, uh, Silverstones like me were here earlier.”
For a few seconds, the man said nothing. He simply watched me in silence before shifting in his seat. His voice was careful. “If I decline to answer your question, are you going to decline to answer mine?”
I gaped at the very insinuation, blurting, “No! Hell no, of course not! Someone out there tried to kill me and my roommate. They’re probably connected to the death of Professor Pericles too! I don’t—I’m not—I’d never do that! I’d never obstruct your investigation. I just… I just wanted to know before we started talking about what happened. I just… I know there’s something that people aren’t telling me.”
There was something he wasn’t telling me too. That look of recognition that he’d given me combined with the knowledge that something had nearly convinced the school not to let me in made me entirely too curious to ignore. But rather than flat out ask the man about his earlier slip, I masked it with the question about my record as soon as he confirmed that he’d actually read it. Kind of manipulative to be perfectly fair, but I couldn’t just let it go. I needed to understand what was going on.
Tribald looked uncertain, a troubled expression crossing his face briefly. “I’m afraid there isn’t much that I can tell you right now, Feli—Flick. It’s not something that I’m allowed to do.” Before I could protest, he pressed on. “The one thing I can say is that you might find one of the answers that you’re looking for in the Athletic Accolades hall on the second floor of this facility. But I wasn’t the one who directed you there.”
I wanted to ask more, but realized that pushing would be a bad idea. Instead, I bowed my head gratefully. “Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me,” the man insisted, his face even more troubled. “Like I said, I wasn’t the one who told you to look there. Got it? If it comes down to it, you were just exploring. Is that understood?”
My head bobbed up and down quickly. “Yes, sir. Just exploring.” What was it? What could be so important and dangerous for me to find on the second floor of the building that he didn’t want anyone to know that he’d sent me that way?
With effort, I shook off the thought and focused. “You want to know what happened today? We waited in line for our turn like everyone else. None of the other groups had any kind of problem. It all seemed to be going fine. Avalon and I walked in, and I was going to uhh, you know, kill one of the bugs. But then I noticed there were three of them instead of two, and the door was shut….”
“Avalon, wait up!”
I jogged to catch up with the figure walking down the hall ahead of me. I’d come out of the interview with Runner Kine and spotted my roommate heading out. Obviously she had just finished as well.
The sigh that escaped the other girl was audible even from a dozen feet away. She turned as I approached, watching for a second before spreading her arms wide. “Go ahead. Take your best shot.”
Blinking, I slowed down and shook my head. “What do you mean?”
Avalon kept her arms spread wide. “What do you wanna say, Chambers? Fuck me for almost getting you killed? You want a new roommate, one that isn’t gonna get you in so much trouble, or might actually be nice to you? One you can giggle and tell stories with all night long? Here’s your chance. Tell me what a fucking bitch I am and then go get yourself a new roommate. No one would blame you. No one could object to you switching rooms, not now. Not after all that. So do what you’ve gotta do.”
“I don’t want a new roommate,” I replied carefully but firmly. “I like the one I’ve got just fine. What happened back there wasn’t your fault. Someone tried to kill you. And why the hell would I want to get rid of you? You kicked ass. I would’ve been dead without you. You’re the only reason I survived that.
“I’m the only reason that situation existed to begin with,” she shot back. “And you know it.”
“Maybe if we were training to be something simple and safe, like pharmaceutical reps, that might actually be relevant,” I pointed out. “But we’re not. We’re training to do lots of very dangerous stuff. I’d rather have a roommate who gets into dangerous situations and knows how to survive them than one who doesn’t and can’t. You’re a badass, Avalon. I don’t want a new roommate. I want the one that I’ve got to teach me to be at least half as badass as she is.”
Her laugh sounded incredulous. “You want me to what?” She demanded flatly.
“Teach me,” I repeated. “Train me. You feel like you’ve got something to make up for just because I’m your roommate and they’re targeting you? Then teach me how to take care of myself.”
“You’re already learning that from Katarin,” Avalon pointed out, folding her arms over her stomach while regarding me with apparent disbelief that I would suggest such a thing.
“Yeah, we all are,” I agreed. “But you’re leagues ahead of the rest of us. I saw the things you were doing in there. Like I said, you’re the only reason I’m alive right now. I want you to teach me some of that. Outside of classes. I want you to work with me in the mornings, help me learn to do the kind of stuff you can do. Kick my ass, whip me into shape. I need it. I want to learn. I want to earn it.”
The dark-haired girl said nothing for a few long seconds. She just stood there, staring at me before shaking her head. “You’re gonna change your mind. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. I’ll be too rough and you’ll go crying to the nearest teacher.”
“Maybe,” I nodded rather than argue. “And then you can rub it in my face. But right now, I’m the one asking you to be rough with me, and you’re the one backing down.”
Again, she was quiet before heaving a long sigh. “I’m going to regret this. But fine, Chambers. If you’re that desperate for someone to kick your ass, I’ll wake you up in the morning. You better be ready, because I am not going to take it easy on you.”
“Good,” I replied. “Because I’m pretty sure whoever sent those bugs into the school isn’t going to either.”
With that settled, I then asked, “Do you know where the Athletic Accolades hall is? It’s supposed to be on the second floor, but uhh, this building is pretty huge.”
For a second, I wasn’t sure she was going to answer. Then the girl just shrugged and turned on her heel. “Fine, I’ll show you. Just come on.”
I trailed after Avalon, and the two of us went down the stairs and through another confusing maze of corridors. We passed several classrooms full of students, all without talking at all. She seemed more comfortable with silence, and I didn’t want to push any harder than I already had.
Finally, the girl stopped in a doorway and lifted her hand to indicate a long, curved corridor full of trophy cases. “You looking for anything in particular?”
Shaking my head, I walked past her and started turning in a circle. The cases were full of awards. There were the kind of trophies, medals, and ribbons that I was accustomed to, and there were also other kinds, mostly involving weapons. I saw a dagger with a bone handle resting on a plaque that read, ‘Sanjay Rahaln: Serpopard Slayer’ and a golden mace with the name Connor Paulson attached to it,along with what looked like the dates he attended the school. It was forty years earlier.
Everywhere I looked, there were more awards. “I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I just need to look around and…” I stopped talking abruptly, looking past the girl.
“What?” She frowned, realized I wasn’t looking at her, and turned around. “What the hell are you staring at?”
“That,” I informed her, nodding to an ancient looking black and white photograph.
Focusing on it, Avalon shook her head. “So? It’s just some old picture. Says…” She leaned closer to read the inscription. “Graduating class of 1922.”
“1922?” I echoed, surprised I could actually find my voice. “That… that long ago?”
“Yeah,” she replied, still squinting at me. “That’s what it says. Why? What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal,” I answered while reaching past her to set my finger against one person in the old photograph in particular. “Is that I happen to know that student.
“That’s my mother.”